Author: Audrey Driscoll

Writer, gardener, lapsed cataloguer, and author of the Herbert West Series.

The Niggling Urge to Rewrite

I’m not referring to a work in progress here. Rewrites are standard procedure for new pieces of writing.

I’m talking about rewriting a published novel.

Have you ever read one of your own books years after it was published and thought how much better you would write it now? Have you ever agreed with a critical review pointing out fixable flaws in one of your books?

Have you ever thought about such a rewrite? Either tightening up the prose or stripping the book down to its basic concepts and embodying them in new words?

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

Soon it will be ten years since I published my first novel, The Friendship of Mortals. Twenty years since I started writing it. It was inspired by, and mostly based on, a story by H.P. Lovecraft called “Herbert West, Reanimator.”

Every now and then, I think about how I would write that book if I were starting fresh right now. I even have an opening scene sketched out in my mind.

Rewritten, the book would be shorter and edgier. Herbert would be more gritty and less charming. Charles would be less willing to go along with Herbert’s schemes and would need to be persuaded by something harsher than friendship. Alma would take a more active role and not get sidelined to the edge of the plot. A clash of motives would produce more conflict and tension.

I’d have to do a sh*tload of research into the criminal world of Boston and environs in the 1910s, and the way people talked and behaved at that time. (The trouble with being realistic is you have to find out what was real at the time and in the place in question. You can’t just make stuff up and hope it passes the plausibility test.)

Or I could ditch the early 20th century setting and make it a contemporary story, dragging in technology and present-day problems and issues. Except that doesn’t excite me at all. Plus I’d have to do a different sh*tload of research — about medical schools and biochemistry, among other things. Tedious, heavy, and full of opportunities to screw up.

If I did the work and did it well, I think I would produce a better book than the existing one. But do I want to? And what if Version 2 wasn’t any better than The Original? Most likely it wouldn’t be Version 2 at all, but an entirely different work.

There definitely would be no sequel, never mind a four-book series, because the ending would be quite different. In fact, the ending would be really interesting.

I’ve always said all I need to write a story or even a full length novel is a good beginning and a good (as in satisfying) ending. Hmm…

Fellow writers, have you ever rewritten one of your books, or at least thought about it? Do you think it’s better to perfect improve an existing book or to keep creating new ones?

By the way, The Friendship of Mortals is available for free at Smashwords during the Authors Give Back event until April 20, 2020. Description and details HERE.

Blue hyacinths

Spring Sights 2020

To my surprise, I forgot to schedule the post I had intended for today (March 22nd). I’ll schedule it for next week, and in the meantime, here are some photos from my garden taken on the first day of spring.

Rhubarb emerging
Rhubarb leaves. Wrinkly when young, smoothing out as they mature.
Erythronium oregonum, Fawn lily
Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) and Chionodoxa lucilae
Daffodil, white and yellow
Daffodil (variety unknown)
Sedge, Carex and garden ornament
Huge clump of sedge (Carex morrowii) and garden ornament
Hellebore "Ruby Wine"
Hellebore “Ruby Wine”
Hellebore, white with purple spots
This hellebore was a nice surprise. It’s a seedling from one of my old plants, which are mostly pink and purple.

I was about to say something about the garden being a welcome diversion in these days of staying at home and “social distancing,” but that would be inaccurate. The truth is I prefer messing about in the garden to most kinds of socializing.

Fellow bloggers, how are you coping with whatever virus-avoiding situation you’re in? Are you reading, watching, or maybe even writing? Is anyone getting bored?

Books: Supplies for the Brain

So maybe you’re quarantined, or in voluntary isolation, or just stretching your social distance to the walls of your own house. Everything is closed or closing, even your local library.

Sure, you have a tottering TBR pile, but it can’t hurt to add a few more books to it. You don’t want to run out of reading material in this time of uncertainty!

frog on toilet
Plenty of TP and something to read!

All my books are either free or half-price at the Smashwords store through Sunday, March 22nd. Use the Coupon Code LH52T when checking out.

More about the books here and here.

And of course, for us writers, it’s a great time to write!

primula white with yellow centres

Spring, the Frantic Season

Never mind that March 20th is the official first day of spring, here it’s been under way for weeks. The grass has been mowed twice. Crocuses have gone through two sets of flowers (the first of which were nibbled by deer). And the gardener is racing around with clippers in pocket, clutching a digging knife in one hand and a bucket (for the stuff to be clipped or dug) in the other, muttering incoherently.

I should know by now that going out and having a look around the garden at this time of year always ends in a frantic session of dealing with several small crises at once. Spray deer repellent or fetch netting for the plant that always gets eaten. Dig up those wild garlic sprouts and those snowberry suckers.

Where did all these weeds come from? Especially hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta). I pulled up zillions of them last spring, but I must have missed a few. This plant is also called “shotweed,” and no doubt it lived up to its name and shot seeds all over the place. The little plants are kind of pretty, with their rosettes of lacy leaves and their tiny wild flowers. Maybe I should just leave them? I understand this plant is edible, reputed to add a peppery zing to salads. Maybe I should treat it as a salad herb.

Cardamine hirsuta, a.k.a. hairy bittercress or shotweed

Hold it right there! This sort of thinking is why I have so many quasi-weeds and out-and-out weedy weeds here. Many are self-inflicted.

As a reminder, here is a list entitled Plants I Would Never Have Planted if I Knew Better: Italian arum, Snowberry, Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Periwinkle, Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria aurea). And another list called Plants of Which I Have Way Too Many. I’m talking about you, Purple Toadflax and Rose Campion, champion self-seeders both.

Of course, it doesn’t help that I find it nearly impossible to remove (i.e., kill) any plant that’s growing vigorously and looking great. Even if it’s a weed. In fact, it’s quite possible all those hairy bittercress plants are descended from a pretty little specimen I failed to pull up years ago, thus ensuring its abundant presence here for all time.

On the plus side, in an east-facing window of the garden shed, there is a small pan containing a nice little crop of blue poppy seedlings. They are still too small to handle, but they’re alive and therefore full of potential.

Clematis armandii

The evergreen clematis (C. armandii) looks wonderful this year, weaving garlands of white flowers through a big old holly. Last year it failed to bloom at all, after brutally cold winds in early February. The pink hellebore “Pirouette” is blooming abundantly, and dark red “Ruby Wine” is living up to its name. “Black Diamond,” on the other hand, is not blooming. “Not blooming yet,” I say hopefully.

Hellebore "Pirouette"
Hellebore “Pirouette”

Sometimes I think nine-tenths of gardening is a matter of balancing the plants that grow way too vigorously with those that don’t. Maybe instead of striving for the ideal of each plant neatly surrounded by an area of bare dirt, I should consider how plants behave in natural environments, where tangled messes are the norm and bare dirt is an aberration. Let them fight it out among themselves and appreciate the survivors.

Years ago, I wrote a post about why I hate pruning. I still hate it. “Strength follows the knife” and “Prune vigorous plants lightly and weak ones hard,” are two pieces of advice I wonder about as I wield the clippers and pruning saw. Maybe they’re true for plants in optimal situations. What really happens is gardeners underestimate the ultimate size of shrubs. A day comes when hard pruning of the vigorous is necessary to make it possible to get into the house without having to turn sideways. It’s not a pruning issue so much as a planting one.

This Photinia was drastically reduced in size and needs an annual trim to keep it a reasonable size

Uh-oh, I hear the garden issuing further orders. Gotta run. Not wanting to end on a complaining note, I’ll just insert another picture…

Dark pink tulips, formerly almost white
Coming soon!
Toy horses, hobbyhorses

Are You a Hobby Writer?

And if you are, do you admit it? The word “hobby,” after all, derives from a word for a fake little horse used as a children’s toy. Wikipedia has quite an interesting article about hobbies.

Honestly, it’s that word — “hobby” — that’s the problem. It conjures up the petty and the trivial. Hobbies are pointless pastimes for people who lack the talent or the passion for more worthwhile pursuits.

Hobbies include collecting things like postage stamps, beer cans, or pretty pebbles. Or activities such as knitting, embroidery, or making birdhouses. Then there’s gardening (uh-oh). Some even consider reading a hobby.

Hobbies can be picked up and abandoned on a whim. Serious writers don’t do that with their writing, do they?

Hobbies don’t make money or bring fame. Successful writers are rich and famous, aren’t they?

In fact, if you consider writing a hobby, can you even call yourself a writer?

What words other than “hobby” might modify “writer”? Most of the options have an uncomplimentary slant. Dilettante (frivolous), amateur (incompetent), non-professional (unprofessional), independent (disconnected; and “indie author” to many suggests one who aspires to financial success).

The visual arts have a number of terms for artists who follow unconventional paths. Folk art, naive art, and outsider art. I don’t think any of these help us much. For one thing, they are generally applied posthumously by critics or historians. I doubt that Grandma Moses called herself a “folk artist,” or that Henri Rousseau said he was a “naive artist.” The term “outsider writer” does have a certain defiant appeal, but would require explanation every time it was used.

What used to be called amateur theater has become “community theater.” That suits an activity involving a group of people, but calling yourself a “community writer” sounds peculiar. My public library has a collection of works by “emerging authors” and another by “local authors.” There’s some overlap between the two. Let’s face it, though — many of us will remain “emerging” forever, peeking shyly out of our home burrows. And “local” isn’t a word of distinction either.

Let’s return to the word “amateur” for a moment. Its root meaning is “lover of” (sort of like “dilettante,” actually). Wikipedia offers this definition: “a person who pursues a particular activity or field of study independently from their source of income.” Perfect, but for writers, there’s a catch. It’s okay to be an amateur runner or painter, but an amateur writer is automatically a failure because most people think there is only one way of being successful: get traditionally published, sell a million copies and/or win a major award. Anything else is failure, especially self-publishing.

In the end, I don’t think we need a special term for a writer who writes and publishes for the joy of it. Anyone who writes with serious intention may call themselves a writer. And those of us who publish our own works may even call themselves publishers.

This post by A.R. Allen presents a helpful view of the issue.

Are you a hobby writer or a professional (actual or aspiring)? Does the word “hobby” bug you? Can you think of a better term for writers with priorities other than fame or fortune?

Featured image by Manuel de la Fuente from Pixabay

The Relief of Reading a Printed Book

I’m reading a printed book after weeks of reading ebooks with the Kindle app on my tablet.

Switching to print has been such a relief! I don’t have to turn the tablet back on if I’ve happened to leave it for a few minutes, or dart back to flip the page back to prevent the device shutting off while I’m making that sandwich. I don’t have to check the battery level or remember to plug it in.

Ebooks are compact and convenient, no question about that, but print books provide a less demanding reading experience. Open or closed, they sit there obligingly, waiting to be read. Several times since I switched back to print, I’ve returned to the book after getting a cup of coffee and experienced a pleasant surprise when I realized I didn’t have to turn on the reading device and key in a password in order to continue reading. (Okay, I know you can set up your tablet not to require a password, but I chose not to do that.)

One problem with printed books is disposing of those you no longer need, often after a single reading. (I’m trying to reduce the amount of surplus stuff in my house, even books.) There are many good ways to dispose of unwanted books — give them to friends, donate to the local library, contribute to community book sales, etc. But each of those options requires more effort than pressing a “delete” button.

This is where borrowing books from libraries is a great choice. Read it and return it. If I’m reluctant to part with a library book after I’ve read it, that’s a sign I should buy myself a copy.

Am I going to restrict myself to reading only in print? No. Many indie-published books are never going to show up at the library. The best way to experience them is via the ebook format, especially when trying out books by authors new to me. As with books from the library, if I find one I really love, I can always order a printed copy — if one is available.

Which tells me that for indie authors, it’s important to make their books available in both print and e-format. It’s even worth the agonizing effort of formatting a Word document to create a professional quality printed book. If you want to do that, this free resource created by fellow WordPress blogger Meeka may be helpful.

What about you, fellow indies? Are your books available in both print and ebook form? Do you read in both formats or do you prefer one or the other?

Plant Deaths and Grief

To a gardener, the deaths of plants are in a category of their own. They’re not like the deaths of people or pets, but some of them have similar effects.

Over the years, many plants have lived and died in my garden. I’ve even dispatched killed quite a few — those I considered weeds or otherwise undesirable. Too big, too ugly, potentially invasive, or just in the way.

Many plants come into the garden for one reason — to produce edibles. The whole point of growing them is to harvest and eat them. Many, such as tomatoes, are not cold-hardy in most parts of the northern hemisphere. Once the frosts hit them, they’re done. And that’s fine with the gardener, as long as they produced tomatoes before exiting the scene. This is also true of summer annuals such as marigolds or petunias. Bloom hard, die young, that’s their story.

But other plant deaths are disasters for garden and gardener. The death of a valued tree or shrub that was the focal point of a garden leaves a big hole. Or the demise of a perennial the gardener spent time and/or effort nurturing. Those are painful. Even the memories continue to twinge years later, when the gardener is reminded of them by photographs.

pink and white double tulip
This pretty little tulip succumbed to “tulip fire” disease.

When a valued plant dies, the gardener questions their skills and calls themselves a bad plant parent, for failing to provide the necessary care and attention. It’s especially tough when the plant was part of the garden or household for years or even decades. And especially if it was beautiful.

“Star Gazer” lily with Agapanthus in the background.

Plants whose deaths have hit me hard: a pink African violet, all those blue poppies, the “Stargazer” lilies, a big old jade plant that was left outside on a night of -3 degrees C, several Japanese maples killed by verticillium wilt, several delphiniums that succumbed to root rot.

A sudden plant death is easier to deal with than a long, lingering one. A saxifrage with reddish leaves and a cloud of starlike white flowers went from full bloom to wilted to dead in just a few days. A post-mortem revealed a gang of small worms around the roots. (The plant was in a pot.) I promptly discarded both the victim and the apparent cause of death.

Saxifraga fortunei October 2010
Saxifraga fortunei in October 2010, shortly before its demise.

Then there was the pink African violet. Reliable as a rock for twenty years, it decided to turn limp and fade away over a several weeks, no matter what I did.

Right now I’m going through that again, with a second African violet, a blue one I’ve had since 1993. It hasn’t made up its mind to die as yet, and even perked up for a while after I repotted it into fresh soil. But for weeks now it has looked feeble. Thinking its usual location was too cold, I moved it to a warmer spot. I administer water sparingly, hover over it every day, but its prospects aren’t good.

"Fragrant Cloud" rose fallen petals, fruit bowl, purple African violet
The blue African violet in better days. Barely hanging on now.

Because plants can renew themselves by growing offsets, or gardeners can perpetuate them by divisions or cuttings, it’s easy to think they should live forever. But they’re no more immortal than we are.

Plant deaths are evidence of a gardener’s failings. I selected the wrong plant for a particular location. I failed to dig a deep enough hole. I failed to supply adequate water or nutrients. I allowed other plants to overwhelm the newcomer. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Beats fist on chest. Thump, thump, thump.

There are as many rules for gardeners as there are for writers, and I’ve broken most of them.

But then, why did the stupid plant decide to die? Didn’t it know how much work I put into digging that hole, adding that compost, running out with the watering can to make sure it didn’t dry out? Those blue poppies, for example — why did they turn up their noses at what I offered them? First their noses, and then their toes. How dare they die! To hell with them!

Gardeners go through the stages of grief too: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Sometimes acceptance is slow to arrive.

When it does, I find myself valuing the dead plants more than living ones. They become the fallen heroes of the garden, more worthwhile than the living plants simply because they are no more. If I have pictures of them, I can look back and remember.

These delphiniums are no more, but they looked gorgeous in their day.

In the meantime, I’m still at the bargaining stage with the blue African violet.

Notebook, tomato, tape measure, diet

Why Writing Is Like Dieting

Writing and editing have been compared to cooking. Here’s another analogy (from my contrarian side).

Two approaches to diet: forbid yourself all foods high in calories, carbohydrates, and/or fat, OR eat a variety of foods (including ones you like), limiting those highest in fats and carbs.

Which one are you most likely to adopt as a way of life?

Two approaches to writing: follow all the rules and make sure you don’t use forbidden words, OR use whatever goddamn words you like, as long as they bring your story to life in the reader’s mind.

Which one will you regard with zest and enthusiasm?

Eating a variety of healthy, palate-pleasing foods from the entire range of available edibles is a better approach than restrictive regimes that label certain foods as forbidden. Of course, it helps to learn something about nutrition, and what “moderate” really means.

We writers have the entire panoply of words available to us. Words are the writer’s tools. Learning to write is learning how to use them well, all of them. Some words — cliches, maybe? — are analogous to processed foods. Flat, boring prose may be likened to vegetables boiled into a khaki-coloured mush. Well-chosen words skillfully assembled are like magical combinations of juice and crunch and richly blended flavours. A dialogue tag other than “said,” or the occasional adverb, are like touches of spice or a few hot peppers.

I’m not a fan of advice that labels certain words as weak words, crutch words, or filter words. The implication is that if you avoid those words or replace them with other, better, words, your writing will be good. But it’s not really about using some words and avoiding others. Writers must develop the ability to embody their imaginings in words that engage, delight, intrigue, or appall readers and keep them reading to the end.

If it was simply a matter of avoiding adjectives and not using “was,” writing would be a snap. It isn’t.

In writing, as in diet, it’s all about good choices and optimal combinations. Experimentation, mistakes and failures, adjustments, and fresh attempts are part of the process. Too much focus on rules can result in paralysis. Ignorance and total disregard of good writing practices can result in bloated or crippled prose.

When the writer embarks on a journey of creation, the rules should be in the luggage and the editor in the back seat. When the writer’s inspiration and intention have been given shape in the form of words, they may be unpacked and summoned to do their parts.

Image by Vidmir Raic from Pixabay

Scarlet amaryllis flower 2020

Amaryllis Unfolding

I’ve had this one amaryllis among my houseplants for years. Maybe decades. I can’t remember where I got it and have no idea what its variety name is. It’s a basic bright scarlet. No stripes or two-tone effects.

I vaguely recall it blooming long ago and trying various techniques to get it to rebloom — putting it outside for the summer, withholding water when leaves started yellowing, etc. What happened was the bulb split into three smaller bulbs. I potted them individually and grew them on. Sometimes one of them surprised me and put out a bloom stalk, but the bulbs remained small.

I must have figured out the proper treatment somewhere along the line. One bulb, which spent most of the time in an east window, got bigger and fatter. It has bloomed reliably, and this year (after a splendid growth of leaves last spring and summer) decided to form not one, but two bloom stalks. What is strange is that it never had the necessary period of dormancy first. A couple of leaves started to yellow last fall, so I reduced watering in preparation for dormancy during the winter. Instead, the plant sprouted a bud! So I resumed watering and moved it to a south window. A few weeks later, a second bud emerged. Thrills and excitement!

Here is a series of pictures from bud to bloom, January 26th to February 2nd.

Scarlet amaryllis bud opening 2020
Scarlet amaryllis bud opening 2020
Scarlet amaryllis bud unfolding 2020
Scarlet amaryllis buds about to open 2020
Scarlet amaryllis flower 2020
The first of four flowers!
Second amaryllis bud developing 2020
The second bud. Maybe only two flowers rather than four.

Advice, Advertising, and Anxiety

Blogs are full of advice for writers and self-publishers. How to start a novel. How to finish your novel. How to make your novel great. How to publish, promote, and market your novel. Etc.

No, this isn’t another rule-quibbling post. (Well, actually it is.) This one is about the advice contained in these posts. Or not contained, when the post is written by a service provider of some sort. After outlining a topic crucial to the success of writing and publishing efforts, the post proceeds to describe how that topic is addressed in a course or book. The real objective, of course, is to sell said course or book.

We writers and indie authors are a huge market for services. Editors, book doctors, writing coaches, and publicists are eager to tap into this market. That’s totally legitimate, but let’s not forget that we aren’t just a bunch of dewy-eyed airheads desperate for advice on creating and selling products (our books). We are a market, and should select paid services judiciously.

OK, most of us authors-who-blog are promoting our books (often to one another). But the relationships among authors are different from those between authors and those from whom they purchase services. We’re like a big, happy family sitting around socializing. “How’re the kids books?” “Oh, here’s a picture of the latest.” “Ooh, so cute gorgeous!” Etc. Then the doorbell rings and it’s a sales representative peddling a product. Do we invite that individual in and offer them a drink? Maybe. Do we automatically sign up for that gym membership they’re peddling? Maybe not.

I pay WordPress not to display ads on my site. I spend time and trouble to make my posts look good, so why would I want them uglified by ads for fungal nail cures or how scantily-clad women can make mega-bucks “without working”? That was the last straw. I forked over cash (well, credit) to be ad-free. And I willingly donate to the Wikimedia Foundation to keep Wikipedia and their other sites ad-free.

Ads, however upbeat, are designed to induce anxiety. Your life isn’t good enough, you’re not having enough fun, your writing won’t be its best if you don’t take my course, read my how-to book, or pay for my expert services. There’s enough anxiety in the world without adding to it by exposure to ads.

Fellow writers, how do you feel about ads? Do you create or purchase ads for your books? What do you think of the ads that come with the free blogging option?

Image from Pexels